Monday, November 15, 2010

Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K, November 13, 2010

JeanneLouWho, elegantly attired in a red wool coat, matching red beret and a star spangled silk scarf, beautifully sings the National Anthem on a brilliantly clear crisp fall morning for the 89 runners awaiting the 8 a.m. start of the inaugural Rosaryville Veterans Day 50K in Upper Marlboro, MD. Some of the runners join in. Members of the United States Naval Academy's cross country team stand at attention. The race, put on by the Annapolis Striders, is taking place in Rosaryville State Park, a 982 acre hidden gem just a few miles southwest of Andrews Air Force base off US 301. The Washington, DC, area is blest with trails, and these are ones that those of us who live north of DC don't know about.

The course consists of three loops of the ten mile-long single track Perimeter Trail, with about 3/4 of a mile in a mowed field and then some park road from a pavilion at the beginning of the race to spread out the field, and the same stub for the return. The track is mostly in the woods and gently undulating without much in the way of serious ascent or descent. There are a few tree roots and even fewer rocks, but nothing that requires much more than ordinary attention and not enough to distupt running stride. The trail has two stream crossings, but today the water is down. One stream is easy to leap over and the other has a log in it the enables a dry crossing. The course twice goes under a powerline and briefly skirts a pair of fields. There are two aid stations on the course, the first at the point where the loop begins and ends, and the second halfway around the loop.

It is cool at the start with temperatures in the mid-30s, but will warm to 63, so dressing is a bit of a challenge. I elect to start in my shorts, but wear a cap, gloves and my Miwok buff around my neck. Within a couple of miles I've taken off the hat but the gloves last a while longer. After the first loop I drop the gloves and hat at the aid station which also doubles as a place where runners can leave drop bags. The volunteers return all the bags and other items left at the station to the start before the end of the race.

A couple of weeks earlier at the Marine Corps Marathon I had success with a run seven minutes, walk one minute strategy and I've decided to use it again. I have some trouble figuring out how to maximize use of my watch for the cycle, but after about 15 miles I have it figured out. What the solution means however is that I routinely won't be flipping back to either the time of day or lap time functions on the watch. And that means that I won't know how I'm progressing.

The course is very well marked and since the footing is pretty good, one can spend some time looking at the scenery. There are no spectacular views as there are at other races, but the woods are infused with a golden light from from the mostly yellow and brown leaves on the ground and on the trees. A moment of inattentiveness allows a rise in the ground to catch my foot and I stumble and fall gently, dirtying my right calf, but without so much as an abrasion on either my leg or my hands. "Down but not out," I assure a runner who sees me fall, as I pop back up.

Passed the second aid station a runner tells me that trail bikers use the course. As if on cue a couple of riders come toward us. We'll see bike riders the rest of the day going in both directions, but all are unfailingly polite and there are no problems over sharing the trail. Later I meet a woman riding her horse in the woods, but mostly on trails that cross the trail we are running on.

I finish the first loop in 1:53. A bit quick I think. A flicker of a thought that I can go under six hours crosses my mind. On the plus side, the course is very runnable, I've now seen it all, and there are no difficult sections. On the down side is that there are still 20 miles to go, the day is getting warmer and slowing down is inevitable.

After I disposed of my hat and gloves I'd moved the buff to my wrist, but it it is hot there so I roll it up and wrap it around my head to catch the sweat which is starting to drip down.

About four miles into the second loop a photographer is busy shooting the passing runners. "What goes up must go down," he says of the rolling section of the course. "If the up lasts more than three hours," I reply, "call your doctor."

A little way past the second aid station, about mile 16, the first place runner passes me. He's done 26 miles to my 16. I try to do some mental arithmetic as to the ratio of our times, and figure that I'm about on my regular pace, which is to run about 54 percent of the distance covered by race winners when they are finished. Four or five more runners a lap ahead will pass me before I finish the second loop.

I finish the second loop in about 3:49. One loop to go, the 7/1 running has me feeling strong, and absent a catastrophic fall, I'm confident that I'll break my 50K PR of 6:37. What about six hours? I've got 11 minutes in the bank, but on the other hand, there is that extra three-quarters of a mile at the end.

I decide not to worry about. I've got the routine of using the timer function of the watch down so that I never have to look at either the time of day or the elapsed time. Run seven. Walk at the beep. Reset the time. When it counts down to six minutes, reset it again and run seven. Repeat. If I walk an uphill during the seven minutes, don't worry about it.

About mile 26 I finally hit the 'bad patch.' It is that point in an ultra when you start to wonder why you are doing it. Marathon runners 'hit the wall,' a point when they have depleted all their glycogen and start to have to rely on fat reserves for energy. It often seems that there is no recovery from the wall as it is based on physiology. Ultra runners don't seem to experience the wall. It may be because they are eating throughout the race, or are used to going longer distances or are better at pacing. The bad patch obviously has physiological components, but more of it seems mental. Today, it is a not-so-bad bad patch. It isn't very deep and doesn't last very long, maybe because I've been having a fine day. I avoid the temptation to glance at my elapsed time. I figure I should be able to finish under 6:10 or 6:15.

I exit the woods and get on the road to the finish. It is a long uphill and while I run some of it, I also walk a fair amount. Cresting the hill I can see the finish maybe 400 yards off. The red glow of the clock is visible, but it's too far away to see the numbers. My watch beeps and I take my one minute walk.

Finally I'm off the road and in the field. One hundred and fifty yards of tall grass, slightly uphill, to go. Someone is standing between me and the clock. Fifty yards to go and now I can see the hour number: '5.' Forty five yards and I can see '5:5' but not the unit minutes or seconds. Closer now. And finally the full clock: '5:59:42.' Sprint! Six hours is within range and sight. Cross the line. Gasp for air. Hands on knees. Did I make it? The race director comes over and congratulates me. "You were under six hours," he says. When the official results are posted the next day my time is 5:59:59. I finish 60 of 89.

After catching my breath I walk over to the pavilion for a Coke and a baked potato. I top the potato with cheese and a curried corn topping. And I collect my glass finishers mug to go with the hat I received when I registered in the morning.

When I get home I notice that salt is caked on the bridge of my nose and that my black shirt has salt stains as well. Fortunately I had taken two Succeed tablets during the race which helped replace - or contributed - to the salt I lost through my skin.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon, October 31, 2010

The Plan
"I'll call you in six minutes," Emaad texts the day before the Marine Corps Marathon. He's all excited about his success using the Galloway run/walk system at the Army Ten Miler last week. The phone rings promptly six minutes later. He tries to convince me that using the system and walking one minute will enable us to run MCM in 4:27, ten minutes faster than either of us have ever run a marathon.

After running out of steam toward the end of the Wineglass Marathon I'm more than willing to try the walk/run method with him. But I don't share his optimism that we can run the entire marathon at the pace he ran the Army Ten Miler.

"But I was just as fresh at the end as I was when I started," he states.

"We have to go more than two and a half times the distance," I gently remind him.

He agrees and throttles back a bit on the enthusiasm but he's definitely ready and looking forward to tomorrow.

Tres Amigos Dos
Promptly at 6:00 a.m. Emaad and Wayne roll up to my house. I'm ready and we pile into my car for the drive to the MCRRC hospitality suite prior to the race. Last year we left a bit later and only got across the Key Bridge after some cajoling of the police who had closed it to traffic to Virginia. This year we take no chances and cross the Potomac on the Beltway and earlier time. We make quick time getting to the Rosslyn Holiday Inn and the suite.

This is the second (or third) time the three of us have done MCM together, and coincidentially this year, we are attired in a patriotic combination of red, white, and blue shirts, appropriate for the Marines own marathon. Wayne is also planning to use a run/walk strategy but on a different interval than Emaad and I. We'll start together, but then be on our own, although we all expect to be close to one another as we were last year.

We stroll to the start where we meet Heather H. All of us have something extra on to ward off the bit of chill in the morning air before the sun will warm us up. The Tres Amigos are wearing large trash bags and Heather has a throw-away shirt and a light sweatshirt.

Seventeen seconds after the scheduled 8:00 a.m. starting time the Marine howitzer barks and the marathon begins. It takes us twelve minutes to reach the start line, but we begin to run as we get to the line. This year seems more crowded than last year's MCM, and there are places through Arlington that force walking simply because of the numbers of runners. Headed down Spout Run, a stretch whose descent should allow us to make some time, is crowded and we are forced to weave and walk.

We cross Key Bridge and head out Canal Road and proceed up Reservoir Road onto MacArthur Boulevard. Now that the crowds have thinned out a bit, we are sticking to the run seven/walk one schedule. We leapfrog with Wayne, catching up to him during his walks and falling behind during ours.

Emaad is in good spirits. Part of it is the glorious weather, part of it is the effacy of the strategy and most it is because he is running with the over 87oo women who will make up 40 percent of the 21,856 finishers today. A woman goes past us wearing a football jersey. "I love to see women in football jerseys," he purrs.

As we pass Georgetown University, we pass some cheerleaders on the sidewalk. Emaad, a Syracuse University graduate, tries to get their attention by yelling "''Cuse, 'Cuse, 'Cuse," but they ignore him. Then we are in the heart of Georgetown and the crowds are electric. Loud, boisterous and dynamic they line both sides of the street. Cheering, music playing, shouting, they energize us as we turn first down Wisconsin Avenue, then K Street to begin the long trek down to Haines Point and the halfway point.

Emaad seems to be tiring just a little bit as we approach mile 14 so I tell him that I'll stay with him until at least mile 20. I give him one of my Succeed electrolyte capsules. We make the seemingly long slog along Constitution Avenue from the Lincoln Memorial, and then we are on the Mall. We catch up with Wayne again but as has been happening all day, we start are walk and he goes on.

The Bethesda Rebel Runners have set up an unofficial aid station across from the National Gallery of Art just beyond mile 18. Even though I know it is going to be there, I almost run past it, but at the last moment spot daughter Hilary. I get some pretzels and chocolate chip cookies. Emaad has missed it, but he slows down to allow me to catch up, and then Rebecca R., who has organized the station comes along and asks if she can get us anything. We arrange for her to meet us on the other side of the Mall after we circle around the foot of Capitol Hill.

Passing an aid station as we return to the Mall, I grab not one or two packets of sports beans, but four of them. As we meet up with Rebecca and Hilary, who have brought us more goodies from the Rebel Runners, I give them the packets as I take more chocolate chip cookies. It may be one of the few times in running history that a runner has tried to restock an aid station.

Emaad is starting to obviously fade more now. "There's a woman in a Brett Favre jersey," I point out to lift his spirits. But it doesn't do the trick. "I've got standards," he unfairly replies. It's less the standards than the distance, I think.

Mile 20 comes just before the approach to the 14th Street Bridge. I tell Emaad that I'm feeling good and am going on, and he gives me a farewell wave and wishes me good luck. I credit the feeling to the seven/one method we have been practicing, and the goos and other things I have been eating. I decide to keep it up for the remaining 10K of the race.

In previous MCM's the bridge has often been the low point of the race. There are few spectators on the straight mile-long barren concrete highway with the sun shining down at the time that most runners start to hit 'the wall.' Police boats patrol the waters beneath the bridge. About halfway across the bridge I catch up with Wayne and Heather. They are in the midst of one of their walk breaks as I pass them. This time the bridge is not a problem for me and I cruise into Crystal City looking forward to the beer at the Hash House Harriers unofficial aid station. They do not disappoint.

I'm in good spirits. I ask a pregnant runner if they charged her two entry fees. I'm enjoying the costumed runners as today is Halloween, and I've seen brides, superheroes (male and female), chicken man and even Satan, complete with bib number 666. I note that everyone in the race is actually in costume and could go out for Halloween as a marathon runner.

Run seven, walk one. Only in the last mile do I begin to falter a bit and walk a little bit more. But that has a purpose of making sure I have enough energy to run up the hill to the finish line at the Marine Corps Memorial, the iconic Iwo Jima statue. I do and finish in 4:40:05, my best time of my five MCMs.

With my medal around my neck, place there as tradition dictates by a Marine lieutenant, I leave the finish area, get my USAA finisher's coin from its booth and walk back to the Holiday Inn. I'm eating lasagna and washing it down with a non-alcoholic beer - I've got to drive Tres Amigos home - when Wayne comes in. He finished in 4:48, meeting his goal of finishing under five hours due to his lack of training. Emaad does indeed fade the last six miles, finishing in 4:56. But like Wayne he, too, had his training disrupted by an injury, so he is not particularly disappointed Heather also finishes in 4:56.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wineglass Marathon, October 3, 2010

Four Runners; Four Goals; One Race
Hilary, me, Jennifer and Kenny pose for a picture at the Bully Hill Winery in Hammondsport the day before the Wineglass Marathon. We've just had lunch at the restaurant and enjoyed both the food and the views of Keuka Lake. Now we are about to drive the course from Bath on our way to packet pickup in Corning.

Each of us has a goal for the race: Hilary to complete her first marathon and run it faster than friend Justin's 4:23; Jennifer to prove the naysayers in her group wrong that she can't run under 3:20 - and to reach the podium in her age group; Kenny to run 3:10 and qualify for his hometown marathon - the Boston Marathon; and me, to set a PR of 4:36 or even to run 4:30.

I recall to myself a story from D-Day. The night before the invasion of Normandy paratroopers lined up to board their gliders as part of the first wave. The commander came out and gave them a pep talk and then some sobering news: German resistance was expected to be heavy and casualties could run 50 percent. Each man looked at another and thought, "poor bastard." That's where we are today, I think. We might all make it, or there may be some casualties. And we have now way of knowing which of us might be in which column tomorrow.

As we drive the course, Jennifer becomes increasingly excited. She's amped up for the race and loves the course's flatness. Kenny and Hilary are more quiet. This will be my third Wineglass and I know the course, so I'm able to provide some additional information at it as we drive.

In Corning we collect our bibs and goody bags, which contain a split of sparkling wine, a long sleeve technical shirt and, for the first time that I've run the race, a wineglass. The men receive black shirts and the women a much more attractive deep purple one. After a brief visit to the small expo where Kenny picks up some GUs, we head back to our house in Watkins Glen. We have a meal of whole grain pasta with tomato basil sauce, garlic bread and salad. Kenny and Jennifer turn in early, Hilary goes to the movies to see Wall Street and I watch some TV and fuss laying out my kit for the morning.

Sunday morning arrives with temperatures in the low to mid 40s, higher than the predicted upper 30s. The forecast has removed any chance of showers. We wind up blest with a wonderful day to run, and I elect to run with shorts, a single longsleeved shirt and my Miwok buff to keep my head warm at the start.

We drive to Corning to board busses to the start in Bath. It seems like a long ride - our version of the flight over the Channel to the drop zone. Hilary and Jennifer share a seat and chat. Kenny and I get seats of our our own and partly fiddle with our phones and partly rest.

Disembarking at the lighting plant in Bath about 50 minutes before the 8 a.m. start, we all head to the portapotties. We get separated, but I find Hilary and we wait on the short line to get into the plant to keep warm. Jennifer calls me and comes in as well. We seem to have lost Kenny.

Ten minutes to race time we go outside. Jennifer and I toss our drop bags into the truck that will take our things back to the finish. I take a quick picture of the other two and then we all go off to find our spot amongst the 2000 runners waiting for the start. I find the 4:30 pacer and get further behind him. I'm determined not to go out too fast as I've done frequently in the past. I'm hoping for a 4:30, but want to start out slowly.

After a mile I've pushed the buff down around my neck and hiked up my sleeves, but my hands are cold. Around mile 2 I spot a pair of gloves that someone has discarded by the side of the course, and I pick them up and put them on. As I struggle with the second glove I realize that they are both left handed. Nevertheless I wear them for a mile until my hands warm up and I discard them by another pair by the side of the road that look remarkably similar. Maybe they are the two rights and I've reunited them, I think.

I get through six miles a minute and a half slower than in 2009. My plan to go out slowly seems to be working. Somewhere around mile seven or eight I catch up with the 4:30 pace group. I don't try to stay with them and slowly I pull slightly ahead.

Passing through the town of Savona at mile 9 a woman runner asks me if I had run Wineglass last year. When I reply in the affirmative, she tells me that she recognized me and that we ran together for a while last year. I remember her. She's Elena R. of Toronto who ran the race last year in hopes of qualifying for Boston. She ran a remarkably steady pace and finished in 4:23 at the age of 59, but had miscalculated the time she needed, which was 4:15. Now that she has turned 60, she only needs to run 4:30 and she is back to try. I remember that last year she ran a remarkably steady pace and I have no doubt that she can.

By now the 4:30 pace group has caught up with us and we join in with them. It is a convivial group, led by Pacer Pete M. from near Baltimore. He and I chat about the JFK 50 Miler and how we are not returning to it this year, as well as other races. He's keeping the group on a very steady pace, and I figure that hanging with them from this point on is a good plan.

We cruise easily through the next miles, past fields with cows and horses, including a pair of magnificent sorrel draft horses. As we approach the halfway point the pace group discusses whether there is a tradition that subjects of the Queen are supposed to recognize her at the halfway point. Elena and another Canadian are just yards ahead so I pick up the pace and ask, since they are still technically subjects of Her Majesty, whether they know if they are supposed to say "God Bless the Queen" at the halfway mark. There is a pause and then one of them replies, "First of all, it's 'God Save the Queen.'" Then I'm advised that there is no such tradition.

We pass the halfway mark in 2:13, giving me a bit of leeway for the second half. I'm starting to feel good about the chance to finish in 4:30, particularly considering that only three weeks earlier I'd shaved 20 minutes from my 50K time.

We get through mile 17 right on pace. Even a traffic jam consisting of a stopped tractor trailer making milk pick-ups at the dairy farms along the two lane road at the aid station at that mile marker doesn't slow us down. But after crossing the railroad tracks in the next mile, Pacer Pete, Elena and the rest of the group slowly begin to pull away from me. It's less that they are pulling away; it's more that I can no longer keep up. I take a Succeed! salt tablet in hopes that it may be of some benefit.

I go through mile 18 on what is technically a 4:30 pace, but the game is up. I just don't have the strength or energy to push it. I have a GU packet that I picked up ten or more miles back and suck on it in hopes that it, like the Succeed! will revive me.

Neither do much good. I'm trudging more than running now. I chat with a second-time marathoner through miles 19 and 20 trying to give her some spirit that I don't feel myself. I glance at my watch a few times during this stretch. I note the passing of 3:10 and wonder if Kenny has made his Boston qualifying. Several minutes later I wonder whether Jennifer has made her goal. I've got a long way to go before I will get those answers.

Just past mile 21 there is woman along the sidewalk offering cups of Yuengling beer. I take a cup and urge my companion to have some. She declines, saying she'll have some after the race. I tout the benefits of complex carbohydrates, but she thinks that alcohol is dehydrating.

On I go. I don't hesitate to tell several runners that I'd much prefer to be running a ultra race in the woods for seven hours than being out here. I cite several reasons: 1) softer surfaces; 2) no mile markers; 3) a varied gait; 4) more scenic; and 5) better food at the aid stations.

In past years the local Hash House Harriers ("a drinking club with a running habit") have had an unofficial refreshment stand just past mile 23. Sure enough, chalked on the path are HHH, then on-on, the call of the hashers. Beer ahead! But when I arrive, the hasher is carrying his folding table to his car. "No beer?," I half question and half moan, and he can only say, 'None. Sorry." Apparently the doubling in size of the race means that us back-of-the-packers are out of luck today.

Maybe it is the lack of beer, or maybe it is having run a trail marathon and a 50K in the four weeks preceding the marathon, but miles 24 and 25 are my slowest of the day. I'm confident that by now Hilary is finished.

And I start to think that maybe I still have an chance for a PR. The inability to do mathematical computations during long runs is a widely recognized phenomenon amongst runners, but near as I can tell, I may still have a chance. Or at least an chance to finish faster than I'm moving now. So I pick up the pace just past mile 25. I pass someone with "Erin - First Marathon" pinned to her back. She is walking. "C'mon," I say, " Stay with me and I'll get you in under 4:40." She doesn't respond, but a quarter mile later passes me. After another block I pick up the pace again and go past her and other runners. About two thirds of a mile to go now. I'm looking at my watch trying to figure if I can do it. I've pretty much figured that there is too little course left, but I don't let up anyway. I cross the line in 4:37:11, missing a PR by 59 seconds.

Pacer Pete brought his group in right on time, as he promised to do, crossing the line in 4:29:45. Elena stayed with them and qualified for Boston in 4:29:49.

I don't see Kenny, Jennifer or Hilary at the finish, or in the refreshments area where I get pepperoni pizza, chicken soup and a Coke. As is often the case after running a long race, my taste buds are off and the pizza and Coke have an odd taste. I eat and drink anyway, but without much gusto and finally discard much of the second piece of pizza.

I find Hilary at her car. "This is the worst thing I ever did," she moans. "My quads are screaming. I'm never doing this again." But it turns out that she ran a smart first-time marathon, finishing in 4:13:44. She made her objective, bettering Justin's 4:23 in San Diego last year. Her splits were a reasonable 2:05/2:08, showing a better sense of pacing than her father. Despite my efforts not to fly and die, it is just what I did, with 2:13/2:24 splits.

"Everyone feels like that after a marathon," I assure her, thinking exactly the same thought she has just expressed. "Wait until Wednesday until you make that decision."

Kenny has failed in his Boston qualifying effort, running 3:13:35. He was on pace through mile 20, and then his thighs began to tighten up. When I see him, he is fairly upbeat, as he ran a marathon PR even though he didn't get his BQ. His full report is here.

Kenny sees Jennifer finish, gasping for breath. She has willed herself to run hard the last six miles even though, as she later reports, she "was in a very dark place." It pays off and Jennifer hits the trifecta. Her 3:18:30 is not only good enough to qualify for Boston, but she finishes fifth in her age group. That gets her a spot on the podium, and she gets a white short-sleeve Wineglass shirt as a prize. And may most importantly for her, it's under the 3:20 that her pace group at home told her that she couldn't get under. "My husband told me I had to show them they were wrong," she says later. "When I couldn't think of a single happy thought, I thought of his words."

In a way, we all ran smartly paced races compared to the 1482 other finishers. From mile 9 to the finish Kenny improved his standing by 14 places (from 136 to 122); I improved by 58 places (from 1246 to 1188); Jennifer by 122 places (from 283 to 161) ; and Hilary by 131 places (from 1045 to 914), a remarkable showing of pace-management for a first-time marathoner.

After showers we gather for post-race beers to celebrate, commiserate and congratulate and to prepare for the drive home. Kenny and Jennifer state their intention to return in 2011 for the 30th anniversary Wineglass Marathon. Hilary is still adamant about how awful the last three miles were. She is one and done with marathons. "Don't decide until Wednesday," I repeat.

On Monday Hilary emails the three of us: "I dont know if you guys slipped me something, but I would be up for doing it again next year. In fact I am already thinking about the Madison Marathon in May 2011. [I] guess it didn't suck THAT MUCH."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Groundhog Fall 50k, September 11, 2010

Phabulous Phun with Punxsutawney Phil!

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is a bit of a one-horse town. Actually, it's a one animal town, namely, the groundhog. Punxsutawney Phil, who is certainly the best-known of the supposed spring-predicting groundhogs is honored by at least 32 six-foot tall fiberglass Phils in the town. In the few blocks of downtown Punxsutawney it is impossible to look in any direction and not see multiple representations of Phil.

And no visit to Punxsutawney, even to run a 50K race, would be complete without an opportunity to meet the real Phil. Which I get to do at the spaghetti dinner the night before the race. Phil makes the rounds of the dinner on the shoulder of a member of the Inner Circle, Phil's caretakers.

Naturally, the Pantall Hotel, where I'm staying for the race and where the dinner is being held, has its own "Phil'd with Service" outside. Since one should never bypass a chance to have one's picture taken with a six-foot tall fiberglass groundhog, Gayatri, who has carpooled with me to the race, and I go outside and take each other's picture with the impossibly friendly, if immobile, creature.

I wander off to buy some bagels for the morning and drop a postcard in the mail for my aunt. On the two block walk I spy at least half a dozen other Phils. Before heading off to my room I stop at the hotel bar for a beer. "Hydration," I think to myself. Back in the room I eat a cookie that I had bought on the drive up.

Can You Run if You Can't Stand?

At 4:30 I awake. Not because my alarm has gone off or because I'm nervous about the race and can't sleep. It's my stomach. It's bloated and distended and starting to feel painful. I get occasional attacks of this nature and generally the only thing I can do is lay down until the attacks passes in several hours. Since the race starts at 700 only two blocks from the hotel, I figure that I have a chance that the attack will pass before I start to run. I spend a restless couple of hours trying that plan.

Promptly at 7:00 the mayor of Punxsutawney climbs a ladder by the start line, says 'go' and the 74 starters are off. Two hours earlier, 22 "trekkers," including Gayatri, set off in the dark.

Unfortunately for me, my stomach is not cooperating. In fact, I can barely run. I can't stand up straight. I can run a bit and walk, and I would be wiser and more comfortable lying down in bed waiting for the episode to pass. But, no, I paid to run in this race, drove 200 miles, paid for a hotel room, and by God, whether it feels bad or not, I'm going to run this damn race. Or at least walk it. Or at the very least, start it and DNF.

The course is an interesting mix of paved and gravel country road, trail and dirt logging and mining roads. We go uphill out of town past the high school, then onto a gravel road and then a dirt road that becomes a wide trail. At one point we pass a tree stand that appears to be made of about thirty packing pallets piled upon each other and secured with random boards running at various angles. We climb a hill and reach the top of Two Beers Hill.

The hill is a very steep and rutted with loose talus making footing uncertain. Working downhill takes concentration and planning and I zig-zag slowly down the hill. When I get to the bottom I realize that my stomach is not bothering me, either do to concentrating on the descent or from having contracted my abdominal muscles on the way down.

Unfortunately the relief doesn't last long, and I spend much of the time to the Buck Run Aid station at mile 7 walking. The scenery is pleasant - mostly forest single track, so skirting a nicely reclaimed strip mine. Leaving Buck Run I down a Succeed!, figuring that the salt tablet can't likely do any more harm than what I'm feeling and it might help.

From Buck Run, the course takes two laps of a 8.1 mile loop. Unaccountably, I feel cold and put my gloves back on for a while. About a mile into the loop the trail ascends the steep but relatively short (300 feet) climb up Yellow Bus hill. Having endured the 700+ feet climb of Virgil Mountain on technical trails three weeks earlier, the hill doesn't seem so bad. Despite the pain in my stomach, I manage to fake running for the photographer waiting at the top.

From Yellow Bus the trail gradually descends until the foot of Cry Baby hill, another short (about 150 feet) but steep ascent. But my stomach pain continues, making running difficult. All morning I send out a series of tweets complaining of my condition.

From Cry Baby the course generally descends on a logging road that now appears to be used for gas mining. The area around Punxsutawney is replete with small wells collecting natural gas extracted through the use of 'fracking,' a process that involves shattering the shale that the gas is trapped in thousands of feet below.

After passing through the Seven Springs Aid station about halfway through the loop (mile 11.2) the course follows Big Run uphill. The footing is a bit soft and wet as natural springs on the side of the hill provide water for the run, and the water crosses the trail to get to the run.

It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Leaving the run the course follows a gravel road back to the Buck Run Aid station. It's on this road that the leaders, now finishing their second loop while I'm still on my first go by. I'm going along with Amy B. who is running her first ultra. We have a nice chat, but my stomach is killing me and I'm starting to think that I'll quit when I get back to Buck Run. The other half of my brain argues that this is just 'a bad patch' and it will pass.

When I get to the aid station I notice that there are Tums on the table! I had missed them the first time thru. Maybe there is some relief here. And I've done 15.1 miles; nearly halfway done. There really isn't any debate now and I start the second loop.

I'm feeling decent now - not great - but I can run. I notice that there are no groundhogs to be seen, but plenty of chipmunks, who scurry away at my approach. They rustle leaves as they scamper away into their hiding places.

The second loop is uneventful and near the end I'm feeling close to normal. Kathy B. and I leapfrog each other over Cry Baby Hill, through the Seven Springs aid station and on the way back to Buck Run for the third and final visit.

We leave the aid station together and resume our leapfrogging. I take her picture as she passes again then run off and catch her as we head up Tower Hill on a return course that differs slightly from the one we went out on.

Tower Hill is another one of the course's typical short, steep inclines. I power walk up, leaving Kathy behind for the last time. Up and over and it leads to a long flat stretch of grass - perhaps the floor of an old reclaimed strip mine.

In the distance I spot a runner, and to make the time go faster and for motivation I play a mind game: "Lion of the Serengeti." The open, grassy terrain inspires me. I'm the lion and the runner up ahead is the prey. Patiently I stalk the unsuspecting victim gradually closing the distance between us. He doesn't know it yet, but he will be run down and figuratively devoured.

As I draw even with Joe D., I ask him, "Which are you, kudu or zebra?" I explain my game to him and he selects zebra. Joe and I had been together early on and he knew of my stomach troubles and encouraged me hours earlier. We reach the Adrian Aid station (mile 27.3) together but I leave him as we begin the walk up Two Beers Hill. It's easier to ascend than it was to descend hours ago. Traversing the rest of the course is routine and mostly downhill. I'm feeling pretty good and run steadily. Perhaps my early stomach pain had kept me for going out too fast in my usual 'fly and die' method.

I cross the finish line in 6:37:31, a twenty minute 50K PR for me. Overall I finish 59th of 93, with three other runners who drop out. Gayatri finishes in 8:26, but having taken the early start, only has to wait about ten minutes for me to finish. First timer Amy B crosses in 7:08, with scrapes on both knees, a hand and her chin from a fall later in the race. We all collect the dark blue Groundhog Fall 50K folding camp chairs finisher's premium to add to our runner's premiums of a shirt, Groundhog Beer and a stuffed Phil.

Gayati and I eat, including spectacularly delicious homemade cookies and desserts as well as pizza, take showers and head home, happy from our time visiting with Punxsutawney Phil and friends.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monster Trail Marathon, September 5, 2010

After a quick stop at the registration table to pay my $25 entrant fee, an application of vasoline to guard against chafing and a decision to where a long sleeve shirt to start the race, I walk the twenty feet to the start line of the Monster Marathon in Virgil State Forest, south of Cortland, New York. It's a beautiful day to run and Sandy and her niece Kathy are dropping me off while they proceed to Syracuse to go to the State Fair.

At precisely 7:17, we're off! Actually, that's 'I'm off!' as the race uses an age- and sex-graded handicapped start, and I get a 43 minute handicap in advance of the official 8:00 a.m. start. Since there are no others in my age group, I start alone.

The course consists of two repeats of a 13.1 mile round trip out and back. The first .85 mile is downhill on a gravel road. Easy, and a nice way to warm up for what follows. The course goes by what is a forwarning of what is to come, namely a chairlift to the top of the ski resort of Greek Peak.

But the road goes a bit further, and near the end of the gravel road chalk on the ground directs the runners to turn right onto the Finger Lakes Trail. Within a few paces the trail crosses a stream and heads uphill.

"Follow the white blazes," I repeat to myself, but within a couple of minutes I'm on what might be the trail, or not, and my eyes are scanning the trees looking for blazes. Another runner comes along and says, 'The trail is over here." Sure enough there are plenty of white blazes in that direction. I haven't been running for more than ten or eleven minutes, and someone has already made up the handicap on me. He won't be the last by any means. But at last I'm on the trail.

The single track proceeds steeply uphill. For the next 25 minutes its an unrelentingly steep climb on a trail with roots and rocks nearly every step of the way. It levels out a bit, then goes uphill a bit more, although not as steeply. Finally, I reach the top of Virgil Mountain after a climb of about 700 feet over 1.5 miles of trail. Although the summit is the highest point within 70 miles, the thick woods preclude much of a view other than from a powerline cut near the summit.

In another mile I come to the first aid station. I'm feeling fresh, so I grab some sports drink, a couple of chocolate chip cookies and some Pringles and dash off. Since the course is two laps of an out and back, I'll visit here four times before the day is over and I figure there will be ample time to socialize with the two volunteers later in the day.

The course continues its up and down nature over rocky and rooted terrain for the next three miles to the turnaround aid station. On the way I start to get passed by more and more of the later starters. But since there are 37 starters in the marathon, most of the running during the early part of the race is done alone. I do catch up with one runner who started before me and we trade stories of our experiences at the Miwok 100K, which he and his wife had run several times.

Another runner goes by wearing a Dipsea shirt. "Dipsea or Quad Dipsea," I ask. "Quad," he says, referring to a notoriously tough 28-mile run in California which requires runners to navigate over 800 irregular steps on steep slopes - four times. For him, the 5500 feet of climb and descent of the Monster Marathon should be easy work, even if it isn't for the rest of us. Another pair of runners are discussing whether to go to South Africa to run in the 56 mile Comrades Marathon. "Hardcore folks out today," I think.

Then Brennan M. catches up to me. We exchange greetings and he tells me that this is his first marathon. He's nuts to choose this as his first, I think. Later he tells me that he enjoys trail running and had done a 30K trail run, so there is logic to his choice. And he can be assured that any other marathon that he runs will give him a better time.

Leaving the turn-around quickly I start to see the first of the 52 half-marathoners headed out-bound. I stop at the intermediate aid station and ask one of the volunteers to take my picture.

At one point the course comes out of the woods and follows a gravel road for a few hundred yards. There is a volunteer there to check off runners and as I turn onto the gravel road and begin to proceed up it he yells to me that I'm about to follow a driveway rather than the road itself. "There's kind of a strange guy who lives up there he warns," and I don't know if he is joking or serious.

The steep downhills are starting to make my quads sore. After exiting onto the gravel road leading back to the start - and the turnaround for the second tour of the course - I find that I can't do much running on the slightly uphill surface, even though it is one of the rare places where the footing is good. Getting to the turnaround, I go to my bag, drop off my hat and change from the long sleeve shirt to a short sleeved one and head back out. It took 1:28 to go out and 1:37 to come back, even though the return was net downhill, for a half marathon time of 3:05.

The second outbound leg is tough going. At least I know the course and know that the Virgil Mountain climb will only take about 25 or 30 minutes. On the way up I take a picture of the steam boiler that is sitting by the side of the trail. It looks like part of a locomotive, but more likely it was used during logging operations in the forest at some point in the past. But how it was dragged up to this point midway up the mountain, or whether it was assembled there, who knows. But however it got there, it was work that I'm glad that I didn't have to do. I'm having enough trouble dragging myself up the mountain, let alone hundreds of pounds of iron.

Approaching the intermediate aid station, one of the volunteers is running toward me carrying a couple of towels. He asks if I saw a women down on the course, as he had received a report that a runner had fallen and was seriously hurt. But I've seen no one, and neither has the runner who comes into the aid station behind me. The volunteer returns before we leave. Apparently it was a false alarm.

Running the downhills is becoming as hard as the uphills. Too many rocks. Too many roots. Too steep. The excuses multiply and my time deteriorates. It takes 1:55 to get to the outbound turnaround this lap, 27 minutes, and 30 percent more, that the first time. And I'm treating the aid stations more and more like rest stops rather than pit stops. No sense of urgency any more.

Shortly after leaving the turnaround aid station, aptly named 'The Rockpile', I'm passed by first-timer Brennan and Jack R. Jack is from the Catskills so he is used to running in mountains, although he says that at least in the Catskills you get rewarded with vistas for your climb. Off they go while I continue to complain to myself about the lousy footing. Truthfully, the footing is forcing me to pay more attention than I might otherwise, and with the exception of a small ankle jam and a scrape on my shin against a log while getting out of the way of runners coming the other way, I don't fall, stumble or roll an ankle all day.

After a leisurely stop at the mid-course aid station, eating and chatting with the volunteers about their time living in the DC area and their running plans for the coming weeks, I head off for the final three miles, including the descent down Virgil Mountain. My quads are really complaining now, but I reassure them that we'll be done soon. I'm mostly walking the steep parts, but trying to run where the footing is good and the downhill not extreme.

And surprisingly I spot Brennan and Jack ahead! And I'm gaining on them. I pass Jack before we get to the road, and catch Brennan on the gravel road. By now I've really gotten my second wind, and as there are no more rocks and roots, I run a fair amount of the rest of the course, as it is uphill and no cause of complaint for my aching quads.

After crossing the finish line in an official time of 6:10:21 (6:53:21 clock time without my 43 minute handicap), I collect my rewards: a ceramic bead on a string necklace and a 'trail 26.2' oval bumper sticker. I walk over to the picnic area for a turkey wrap, some potato salad and an Arnold Palmer. As I'm leaving, I chat with one of the race officials about the day. "Would you do it again?," she asks. I don't hesitate to respond. "No," I answer, "that was a very tough course."

I wound up 27th of 32 finishers. There were five DNFs. Undoubtedly I'll never finish in the top 30 of any other marathon. Unless I come back to the Monster. Nah, that would be crazy. Still, next year I'd get an additional two minutes added to my handicap. And it is less than a dollar per mile to enter . . . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Riley's Rumble Half Marathon 'Fun Run' - July 25, 2010

"That's odd," I think, as I view the goosebumps on my arm, "I don't feel cold." There isn't any reason I should feel cold. It's just about 9 a.m. and I've run more than eleven miles on the hot (86 degrees), humid (62 percent relative humidity) and hilly Riley's Rumble Half Marathon. Due to the weather, the event has been changed from a race in the MCRRC's Championship Series to a 'fun run' which will not be timed and no results recorded. Whether that actually encourages runners to go more slowly or be willing to quit if they feel distressed will be the subject of debate in the coming days on the Club's discussion list.

And I've been on the verge of lightheadedness the last couple of minutes. I've been walking up one of the hills on the Y-shaped out and back course, and have just walked past Craig R., who says that he has been forced to give in to the hill. I say that it is not giving in but becoming one with the hill. I haven't the faintest idea of what I mean. Perhaps I mean that by walking one is yielding to the nature of the hill, and that is more in harmony with it than running up it, which is to struggle against the nature of the hill. but that Zen-like explanation only occurs to me well after the statement to Craig.

But the good news is that I can now see the final aid station at mile 11.5, and hear the crew there shouting encouragement to approaching runners (and walkers) that there is only a mile and a half to go. And a bit of a quandry - what does goosebumps and mild lightheadedness indicate? Time to call it a day? Or something transient that can be addressed at the aid station?

The day started off with me finishing my repo man role. A few days before the race I spotted a traffic cone stenciled with 'MCRRC' in front of a house in the next block. Figuring (correctly) that the cone did not belong there I grabbed it in the evening and put it in the trunk of my car to return to its rightful owner. I returned it at the start/finish area and then assumed my pre-race volunteer duties, which were not particularly difficult; repeating over and over again to arriving pre-registered runners: "A-L to the right, M-Z to the left."

I met Alyssa S. and her friend Kerry and we set off together. Her GPS was set to beep if she exceeded a 10 minute per mile pace, and it helped keep us from going out too fast. I had brought Succeed! salt tablets to carry with me for the race, but I forgot them and left them in the car. The sodium helps one retain water to keep from getting dehydrated, but I resolved to drink Gatorade at each aid stations, and not to go out too fast. Alyssa's GPS was pretty helpful in that regard, as we went through the first two miles in 20:11 and then the turnaround on the first branch of the Y-shaped course at mile 6 in one hour flat. I took a roll of Smarties at the aid station for future use. Mile seven passed in 10:06, so the pacing was looking pretty good despite the lack of Succeeds and the 3Hs of Riley's.

Just after mile seven the course turns to the second branch of the Y, and the course gets out of the shade of the wooded road onto a road that passes through fields and pastures and offers no shade. I see physicist and faster runner Mark Z. already headed back and joke the he is so fast that I'm experiencing a 'red shift' from his shorts. He goes on to finish in 1:57:30.

The turnaround at the top of the branch of the Y is at mile 8.42 (marked, 'yes it is exact') and the aid station there dispenses freeze pops in your choice of colors. I take a green one and for the first time decide that I need to walk an uphill. I encourage the still-outbound runners by telling them how far to the popsicles.

On the way back I spot Charli L. taking photos. Last year we teamed up in traveling to the JFK 50 miler. "Picture this," I shout, and give her a small effort to, umm, well, partially show the moon - but display less than a plumber shows while working under a sink. This, not the gooseflesh two miles later may have been the first sign that the heat was getting to me.

Now, reaching the final aid station, it's decision time. The first aid worker is offering ice water. I pour a cup over my head. It is shockingly cold, and I gasp as it runs down my neck and back. "Have another," he offers, and I take it and repeat the exercise. It feels deeply refreshing. I drink a Gatorade, as as I do, a car pulls up to take a runner who has been sitting in a chair with an ice pack on her head to the finish.

The gooseflesh and the lightheadedness is gone and I head up the road toward the finish. The lst portion of the course is mostly uphill and I walk long segments of it. Finally it turns off the road and into the soccer complex where the race began for the last quarter mile. Even though this section is mostly flat, I walk portions of it to finish in 2:17:20. The last two miles in particular were difficult, and it took me 25:29 to navigate the last 2.1 miles.

But I finished and was in good enough shape and humor to tell the finish line announcer that I didn't see how this could be called a 'fun run.'

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pacing at MMT100, May 15, 2010

It's 1:40 a.m. on Sunday morning and I'm trying to sleep in the car at the Visitor Center Aid Station at mile 77.1 of the Massanutten Mountain 100 Mile race when my phone beeps that I have a text message. It is from cousin Peter K., who is somewhere out in the darkness on the rocky trail. "Get comfy and take a nap if u want," he writes, "not yet to AS11." That means he's likely nine miles away so I try to get some sleep. But I have trouble sleeping, partly because of the large cup of tea I had a midnight on the drive out and partly because I'm afraid that if I fall asleep I'll miss him.

The weather, which had been warm at 2 a.m., turns cool and rain begins to fall about 3:30. By 4:15 the rain ends, but still no Peter. At 5:35 the sky begins to lighten, but no sign of Peter and I'm getting a little worried, but I note in a tweet that he still has three hours to go before the cutoff at the aid station.

Finally, at 5:54 a.m., Peter arrives at the aid station along with his Pittsburgh friend, Phil W. They plop down in chairs while aid station workers bring them soup and refreshments, and I help fill Peter's camelback with water.

After about ten minutes of resting, they are ready to go and we head off down the trail. They are 'running' the downhill, but after going 77 miles on the brutally rocky and hilly course, their running is little more than my walking pace. But because this is Massanutten, and every downhill leads to an uphill and within a quarter of a mile, we all are walking climbing up the steep side of Bird Knob. Finally we reach to top for a photo op, then walk and run the level top of the Knob to the aid station of the same name at mile 80.5. They offer us delicious corn chowder for breakfast as well as the usual aid station assortment of cookies, bananas and other carbohydrate/sugar rich food.

A women runner comes in to the aid station and passes on the chowder. She tells us that her stomach had bothered her during the night, so she found a log, crawled under it and took a nap for a couple of hours.

Our stop at this station is not as long as at the Visitor Center station and we head down a gravel road. The woman rolls past us and tells us that her legs feel fine, and it was only her stomach that had slowed her down. "My legs only get tired during the second day of 160 or 170 mile multi-day runs," she explains as she passes. Even for Phil, who is running is fourth hundred miler, that is extreme.

The downhill leads as you would suspect to another uphill and like many MMT uphills, it is rocky and steep. Phil strides away from Peter and I, but waits for us at the top. But on the downhill he moves out and by the time we are headed up the next hill, his green shirt is receeding into the distance.

Peter is starting to feel and look a bit tired. He takes a call from wife Jenny and tells her that we are about 45 minutes from the next aid station where she plans to meet us. I gently suggest that me is underestimating the time that it will take us, but he is unconcerned.

This is my first time pacing, and further, I've never been to a 100 mile race, so I'm not sure what my role is, or what is the best way to help Peter. I know that chattering away helps the time pass, and so I babble away about all sorts of things. Peter works in metallurgy, so I tell about the use of platinum as shotgun pellets in 19th century Russia, the change to copper-plated zinc cents in 1982 and the current quandary of the Mint, where it costs more than face value to make cents and five-cent coins. I ask Phil and Peter the eternal question facing all ultrarunners, 'why?' Phil and I discover that we both have experienced the runner's high, or that zone of running where all is perfect and timeless and trouble-free.

Peter is starting to look tired and he says that he needs to sit down on a log and get some caffeine into his body. He pulls out a can of Starbucks double-shot espresso drink and downs it. It perks him up and off we go, reaching Aid Station 14, the Picnic Area, at mile 86.9 where Phil is relaxing in a chair being tended to by wife Beth, and Jenny is there to meet Peter. And best of all, Beth has brought Egg McMuffins for the two runners. We spend 14 minutes at the aid station, as the two runners eat, refill water bottles and camelbacks and rest a bit.

Finally we move out headed to the last aid station before the 'dash' to the finish. MMT dishes out more of its rocky paths, gravel fire roads, and hills. The path is not without some beauty, and at one point, Peter calls for a rest and the three of us sit down on some logs. The only sounds we hear are birds and the water in a stream. In addition, there are small flowers on the forest floor as well as flowering shrubs.

At one point we come to a tree that has fallen across the trail about thigh high. Peter and Phil stare at it. They both say that they cannot lift their legs high enough to get over it. They look left and right, but make no move to try to figure a way around it. Finally, in what may be a breach of the pacer's code to render no assistance other than companionship, but having no interest in standing in the woods until the buzzards begin to circle overhead, I suggest that they crawl under it. They do, I step over it, and we move on.

We come to a part of the trail that is flat and smooth and devoid of rocks. I suggest to Peter that this may be a good place to run, as we have been mostly walking since since I met up with them. Peter is in the lead and he begins to run. That is, he moves his arms like a runner and lifts his feet, but after more than 90 miles and 30 hours I have no trouble walking behind him. But psychologically, he feels strong enough to run and that is beneficial to his psyche, if not his time.

Peter is carrying the course description with him, and the stretch between aid stations 14 and 15 is 8.5 miles long. The last 1.5 miles is described as being on a road, and as we are on a wide gravel path, it seems to be a road. But no, it finally comes out on what is actually the road and the two runners are a bit disappointed. Peter asks about his chances of finishing in under 34 hours, and I tell him that if he doesn't spend too much time at the last aid station and gets on his way by 1:00 p.m., he has a good shot at it. The road is all downhill but we don't run. Finally, we turn off the road onto a short path to the Gap Creek Aid Station at mile 95.4, and now Peter runs in a way that requires me to run to keep up with him. He and Phil enter the aid station at 12:53 p.m.

My job is done as Jenny will pace him for the last 6.3 miles to the finish. I've gone 18.3 miles in 6:42, a pace of 21:58 minutes per mile. I have tremendous respect for Peter and Phil for taking on MMT, not just because it is 100 miles (it is actually 101.7) but because it is an extremely difficult one. In fact, of the 170 runners who started the race at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, only two-thirds will finish in the alloted 36 hours.

Peter and Phil take their accustomed positions in chairs at the aid station. But they know that they have to be out of there by 1:00 p.m. if they want a chance to finish in under 34 hours. And Jenny is pacing them. Right at 1:00 she tells Peter that it is time to get moving. He and Phil get up, I say my goodbyes and wish them luck.

Jenny is a better pacer than me. She pushes them at a 19:12 minutes per mile pace, and they finish in 33:54:39.

I find this out later. Having left them, I drive to Sonny's Place on Route 211 for pulled pork barbecue, cole slaw, baked beans and sweet tea. Delicious!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Miwok 100K May 1, 2010

Thanks to daughter Hilary for pacing me the last 13 miles. Her report of the last 13 miles, written separately and independently from mine, is interspersed with mine, and is set in italics with paragraphs beginning ‘Hilary:’. This is a pretty long report, but, hey, 100k is a pretty long way to go.

The Rapture

“Spectacular! Triple spectacular,” I say to the two hikers somewhere on the Coastal Trail in the Marin Headlands. “The weather is spectacular, the scenery is spectacular and I’m having a spectacular time. I feel like Mr. Fabulous!” I’m about 47 miles into the Miwok 100K, and what I’ve told them is no lie. Some of that will change in the coming hours, but for that time in that place, I speak an undeniably accurate and perfect truth.

“Why do you do it?” Everyone who runs longer distances gets asked the question. The answer lies somewhere in the part of the mind where there are no words. It is being only in that place at that time. There is no past, perhaps other than when the race began, and no future, other than that what remains of the race. One’s future focus is, at most, of getting to the next aid station, but more likely, getting to the next turn of the trail, or most likely, putting down the next step. There are no distractions of what has been undone or of what has to be done other than taking the next stride and taking in the air and views around oneself. It is an indescribable sense of being in the moment, focused only on that moment and being engulfed and exultant with it. No regrets. No what-ifs. No worries. No concerns. Rapture.


Hilary and I stop at the race’s official hotel on the way back from a day hydrating in Napa. We have visited a couple of wineries, one of whose chardonnays she is fond of from Washington and a second recommended by my friend Camille, who has graciously offered to put us up for our visit to San Francisco for the race. We’ve acquired several bottles of wine to bring back for Camille and her husband Jody.

The ‘packet pick-up’ at the hotel could not be more minimalist. Two guys sit at a table, check your name off and hand you your bib with four safety pins. No goody bag. No expo. No course maps. Nothing. Hilary is planning to pace me the last 13 miles but has to arrange to get to that aid station while leaving the rental car at the finish. She talks to one of the guys whose attitude is one of “don’t worry, it will work out tomorrow.” Hilary is unconvinced.

That evening we take Camille, Jody and their four-year old son to Suppenküche, a German restaurant, where I have jägerschnitzel and spätzle, as German food prior to long races is becoming my tradition. I wash it down with a dark beer and finish by sharing a piece of Black Forest cake with Hilary to complete my carbo loading for the next day’s race.

Rodeo Beach

In the predawn darkness, Hilary drives me to Rodeo Beach just across the Golden Gate Bridge for the race start. While the forecast calls for a sunny day with temperatures in the high 60s, there is a chilly breeze off the Pacific while we make the short walk to the beach for the start. Right on time, at 5:40 a.m. we are off, and soon begin the first of the long climbs of the day, headed up past the old Nike missile site to the turnaround at Battery Mendel. Headed back, I pause with Carl L. of New Zealand to take pictures of each other with the sun starting to back light the Golden Gate Bridge.

Downhill, then up the Coastal Trail for more views of the Bay area. I run a bit with Rajeev P., who is from San Jose and seems to know every other runner as well as be known by them. He says that he is a frequent ultra runner in the Bay area and is also the race director for a local ultra. “Besides,” he says, “there are not many Indian ultrarunners.” He helps retrieve several items from my camelback and I return the favor by holding his while he peels off his jacket.

We pass through the first aid station at Bunker Road (mile 6.2) in 1:15. It's a faster pace than I'd planned, but I feel good and am not concerned.

Heading for Tennessee Valley

Another long climb up the single track through grassy hillsides dotted with orange California poppies and other wild flowers culminates in more spectacular views of the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I pause to have another runner take my picture. I chat for a while with Eldrith G. (?), and we spar a bit over guessing who is older, but from his tone I know the game is rigged. At 68 he is running his sixth Miwok and will be the oldest finisher today (in 15:51). I’ll be the sixth oldest finisher when the day is over.

I chat with another runner whose distance running trajectory is astonishing. He ran is first marathon in October, his first 50K in January, is first 50M in February and is now in his first 100K.

We run past a man on the trail with a white bird perhaps a parrot or cockatoo who is trying to train it to fly from a post to his shoulder.

Just past there I spot a women running ahead of me. She is a below-the-knee amputee of her left leg, but she’s moving along as well as any of us toward the back of the pack. I pass her but I’ll see her again headed for the turnaround at mile 35.6 and comfortably ahead of the cutoff.

But out on the trail, I don’t find this unusual. As is usual, I’ve been talking to everyone out on the trail, and the predominately western runners at Miwok are quite different from the eastern runners that I’m used to. Perhaps it is the distance that accounts for being surrounded by what seems to be a majority of people who have run 100 milers. But it is comments as well, such as when Julian M. tells me that not only has he run the Leadville Trail 100 Miler, but that he thought the course was easy – even though it is almost entirely about 10,000 feet, and includes a climb to nearly 14,000 feet.

Let’s Go to Muir Beach

Leaving the aid station at Tennessee Valley (mile 11.9), it is off to the small town of Muir Beach on the Pacific Coast. More steep up and downs, but spectacular views of the craggy Pacific Coast, with the trail hugging steep inclines to the sea. Miwok is not just a run, but a seemingly endless photo op and I stop to snap a shot or two. As we approach the aid station at Muir Beach (mile 16), I’m with Rajeev, who is greeted by a friend dressed like a pirate.

At the aid station a volunteer refills my camelback; I grab my usual food of potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and head off. I take out my cell phone and am puzzled that the battery seems so low after only three and a half hours running. Then I realize that there is no signal, and probably hasn’t been for a couple of hours, and the battery is being drained by the futile search for a signal. I put the phone in ‘airplane mode’ to try to save what power is left for when I’ll need it.

The Endless Climb

The terrain changes leaving the beach. For the next three miles or so we run gradually uphill in woodlands on a narrow single track with grass and shrubs close-by. I move a thin branch to the side so that it doesn’t hit the runner behind me. He acknowledges my courtesy and then says, “That was poison oak.” We are just about to cross a very small rivulet and I dunk my hand in it hoping that it might wash it off. Either thru luck or prompt action, my hand doesn’t break out, but four days later, sitting at the Nats game, my right shin feels itchy and I see that it is covered with a rash from poison oak, and my left leg has a small amount as well.

Then the course turns sharply uphill and we climb about 1400 feet in the next two or two and a half miles. Every time it seems we have reached the top, it is a false crest, and we have to keep climbing. In a clearing I flip the phone on and send a tweet about climbing for the past 30 minutes. Little do I know that I’ll be climbing for another 50 minutes

Spectacular Coastline

Finally the climb is over and I arrive at the Pan Toll aid station (mile 21.7). I’ve sent a drop bag there since I can access it both outbound and inbound. I change my sweaty long-sleeved shirt for a short-sleeved one, eat my usual potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and exit the parking lot to where the trail crosses the road. Two volunteers are there assisting with traffic control, but I tell them that I’m not ready to go across as I fiddle with my phone in an effort to reach Hilary. She’s sent me a text asking me to ask the aid station workers if someone can drive the car back to the finish, but I’m past it and won’t go back to ask. As I let her know that, the crossing volunteers at kid me about telling the race director to prohibit texting while running next year. “I’m trying to reach my daughter,” I tell them, and they pronounce that acceptable.

The course winds along the side of a grassy ridge with endless spectacular views of the Pacific. One runner points out to me a place off the course by a grove of trees where he had camped. Soon we are stepping off the single track to make room for the race leaders on their way back. It’s quite remarkable to see them, as they are already about 20 miles ahead of us. But it is like seeing a who’s who of the best ultrarunners in the country as Anton Krupicka, Michael Wardian, and Hal Koerner effortlessly go by.

Julian M. tells me that he beat Krupicka at Leadville last year. He passed him at the aid station at mile 80 because Krupicka was down on a stretcher with an IV on his way to a DNF. Finishing beats not finishing.

As the trail wound around the hillside, we come upon an overturned vehicle entirely covered with a patina of rust. Apparently the car came down the steep but even slope, hit a large stone and flipped over it.

Thru the Redwoods

After awhile we enter woods and within a mile or two come to the Bolinas Ridge aid station at mile 28.4. The trail is a wide dirt road along Bolinas Ridge. More and more runners are passing me headed for the return to the finish. As I leave the aid station a young boy of about four or five runs toward me. I joke that even a young child is faster than me, and his father says “look at his shirt." "OK, I understand," I say, eyeing the boy’s Superman tee shirt.

The trial rolls gently up and down and I run along with Julian M. We are in a redwood forest and the trees reach straight and tall. He tells me that when California was still Spanish, ships used some of the very tall redwoods as navigation markers.

I start to become concerned about my hydration, as I haven’t urinated in hours and haven’t felt any need to. I’ve been trying to remember to take Succeed tablets, and have packed 10 with me as well as leaving some in my drop bag to replenish my supplies if need be. But I’m not on a schedule as to when to take them, and even when I do, I forget how long it has been since the last one. Finally I realize that I can set the timer on my watch to provide an alarm as a reminder. And finally I feel a need to stop and duck behind a tree. The power of suggestion works on Julian and he stops shortly thereafter. I'll down nine Succeeds before the day is over.

We come to the left turn where we head down the Randall Trail for the 1100 foot descent over 1.7 miles to the turnaround. In some places it is too steep to run without tearing up one’s quads, but fair portions of it are runnable.


At the bottom of the trail is the aid station at mile 35.6. It is the first aid station with a cutoff time, but I’m a very comfortable 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I get my usual food and camelback refill, and apply some Vaseline to avoid chafing. I take a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and head back up the long hill that I just came down. Later, looking at the race results, I realize that Anton Krupicka was crossing the finish line more than 26 miles away about the time I was leaving the Randall Trail aid station.

All through the race I had been dreading this point, figuring that having to go up this hill after just coming down it would be psychologically tough. Instead, I find the climb neither mentally nor physically challenging. Perhaps that was because I had just been down it and knew what to expect, unlike the climb out of Muir Beach, or perhaps because I was so far ahead of the cutoff. I knew from both my pace card and from talking to experienced Miwok runners on the outbound legs that this was the toughest cutoff, and that if you made it, you were in a good position to finish.

Going up meant seeing runners who still had to get to the aid station before the cutoff, and the further I went the lower the chance of the runners I saw had of making the cutoff. Some seemed resigned to not making it and others were concerned and pushing. Forty three minutes after leaving the aid station, and three minutes after the cutoff time, I meet a runner still headed out-bound. He knows that his day is over, and we discuss whether it makes sense for him to continue or to turn back to the Bolinas Ridge aid station. He decides to take a chance that someone will still be at Randall Trail when he arrives so that he can get a ride back to the finish.

I’m feeling really good on the rolling path thru the redwoods and am even catching and passing some runners. I’m even running some of the gentle uphills.

Rendezvous Ahead?

Arriving back at the Bolinas Ridge aid station at mile 42.8 I ask to borrow a cell phone if there is a signal. One of the volunteers dials Hilary’s number for me. She doesn’t answer, so I leave a message that I’m doing fine and that if she can’t arrange to meet me at Pan Toll, the next aid station, not to worry about it.

I’m in the zone. I’ve got my mojo working. I’ve got runner’s high. It’s the rapture. Whatever it is, I feel great. Out of the woods, and along the Coastal Trail for more spectacular views of Stinson Beach, the Pacific and the mix of grassy hillsides and wooded ravines. I stop, start up the phone and take a picture. I pass a runner and her pacer, and she looks out of gas. I pass a couple of more runners, step aside to let hikers and families go by headed in the other direction and am upbeat and chatty to them all. “It’s a spectacular day,” is my motto to one and all. Someone asks how I can be so happy running so far. “How couldn’t I be?” I respond, “Everything is spectacular.”

As we run through the wooded section approaching the Pan Toll aid station, the woman who appeared out of gas passes me. It's either a miraculous recovery or she starting her spectacular day later than I.


As I come off the trail to cross the road to the Pan Toll aid station at mile 49.5, one of the same road crossing volunteers who had joked with me earlier about texting while running says, “Is that your daughter?” I pause and look across to the parking lot and see two women standing there looking at me. I don’t recognize the one on the left. But the one on the right is Hilary!

She tells me that she had driven up to Pan Toll figuring to at least see me there. But a runner dropped out with an injury at the station and needed a ride back to the finish. She offered to let him and his pacer drive our rental car back to the finish. I’m not surprised that she figured out a solution, as I was less apprehensive about her ability to figure out a way to be able to pace me than she was. On the other hand, she's given the rental car to two guys we don't know . . . but that is the culture of trail running.

Hilary: I was sitting in the parking lot with another woman who was waiting for her runner to come through. I had been at the check point for about an hour and half already. My cell phone had lost service and I had used the last of the battery to call Andrew to see if there had been any twitter updates from Dad in the past two hours. Radio silence. As my anxiety was rising, I saw a man in red shorts and white hat coming down the hill. It was Daddy! He was alive! He was actually smiling! He was still running! I have never been so happy to see my Dad.

We head over to my drop bag, grab the headlamps and handheld light and get back on the trail.

Hilary: He breezed through the check point. We had five miles to the next check point. I said, "You've come this far, only 13.2 more." He scolded me. He said something to the effect of: Never say how much is left of the race, only how much more to the next check point.

The woman who was gassed passes us for the second time shortly after we are on the trail. Julian also goes by and notes that we have gone through 50 miles in 11:30. I think to myself that is only 15 minutes longer than it took to run the Bull Run Run 50 miler three weeks previously, on a course nowhere near as challenging as Miwok. Mr. Fabulous is certainly out on the course today.

Hilary: We successfully made it through the woods, walking the uphills, running the flats and downhills. This part of the course provided great views, big trees and good conversation with Dad. About two miles to the next checkpoint, we came out of the woods and starting winding our way up a mountain. Dad kept talking about his pace and how we were on pace, even if we walked the rest of the race, for 15 hours.

My biggest concern at this point was missing the turn for the Redwood Creek Fire Trail, as the inward part of the course is different than the out-bound and the Miwok course directions warn that every year runners miss this turn. In fact, a fellow runner earlier in the day had told how he had unsuccessfully chased after a woman who had missed the turn. She wound up going all the way to Muir Beach before recognizing her error and finished an hour behind him. This year ten runners will miss the turn and wind up at Muir Beach.

But we spot the ribbons, and make the turn, following the trail through a wooded valley filled with ferns. We don’t see any Ewoks or Hobbits, but it has the feel that either could live there. It’s uphill, but pleasant and we catch up to a different woman and her pacer. They had missed the turn, and gone about five minutes before recognizing their error and turning around. They good naturedly joke about who was responsible for the error, the runner or the pacer.

Still more uphills follow, and now out of the woods, but the rewards of climbs are spectacular views.

The End of the Rapture

I’m starting to feel a bit tired as we reach the Highway 1 aid station at mile 54.7. I refill the camelback with GU20, grab the usual food and take another Succeed and we are off again. I toss a potato chip away as my mouth is dry and cottony. Mr. Fabulous has departed, and instead of the rapture, I’m feeling left behind. As we walk uphill I tell Hilary that my stomach is starting to feel bad. I briefly consider sticking my fingers down my throat, but don’t quite feel that bad. I also don’t tell Hilary that I’m also feeling a bit light-headed.

We are getting passed regularly now, something that doesn’t usually happen to me in the latter stages of races. But then again, I’m in uncharted territory for me, distance-wise. I seem to find reasons not to run, as either the downhills look too steep or don’t look at all like downhills. Rajeev and a fellow runner go by with a jolly greeting and it perks me up enough that we start to run, even if only for a little bit.

Hilary: Luckily, it only last about a mile and half. He started to feel better after he saw his Indian runner friend and we started to jog again. With about a mile and half to go to the Tennessee Valley aid station, the course got rockier and steeper. During our decent, we met a nice real estate lawyer who talked about some of the foreclosure problems out in California, the Western States 100 miler and how he was never going to do this race again. I was thinking "I’m never going to do this again and I'm only going 13 miles."

Hilary chats about foreclosures with one of the runners. She doesn’t mention her position at HUD and I keep my mouth quiet about that. He also tells us that he ran Western States and thinks Miwok is tougher. But I’m feeling better and my stomach distress seems to have passed.

Fireworks for the Finish

Hilary: At the Tennessee Valley aid station, Dad filled up again and went to the bathroom. I ate these delicious pretzel bites filled with peanut butter from Trader Joe's (advertisement) and drank some water.

A restroom visit provides relief and the first chance of the day to sit down. I eye the pizza at the aid station but decide to stick with the usual chips and cookies. In fact, all I eat all day, besides the aid station PB&J, potato chips and cookies is a single bag of Shot Blocs.

We run past a bored horse at the stables and start to climb. We are about 14 hours into the race, it’s about 7:40 p.m. and the shadows are starting to lengthen. Sunset is about 20 minutes ahead.

We reach a nice runnable section after the climb and it appears that the trail will go slightly left through a saddle in the ridge ahead. But no such luck, as the trail veers to the right and we will have to climb over the ridge. We catch up to a runner who’s having ITB problems with his left leg. He’s OK on the uphills, but has to stop and stretch on the downhills. He warns us that the trail goes uphill in three sections with the first and third being steep.

Hilary We started off on the last 4 miles of the race. Lucky for us, we only had the WORST part of the course left. One runner, who was now limping because he had some type of knee injury situation told us that at the end of the course there are these "weird rocky stairs and that we have two really bad uphills to go." He was not kidding. The evil course makers decided to lead you up higher and higher, tricking you at every turn. The first mile after the aid station was nice. Wild flowers on the side of the path, the path was nice and wide, no small ravines cutting across the path . . . it was great. THEN stupid pink ribbons led us up a 75 degree angle hill maybe more! This continues until its dark and we have to put on our head lamps.

About midway up the final section of the climb, we put on our headlamps. We crest the ridge and we can see the tent at the finish, probably a mile and a half away down on the beach. It looks tiny, but also deceivingly closer than it is, as the course will wind its way down.

Hilary: Then FINALLY FINALLY we get to the top and you can see the ocean and the aid station! SWEET RELIEF ALMOST THERE!!!! Oh wait, we hadn’t even gotten to the "weird rocky stairs." We have maybe a mile and half to go and one can tell that it's down hill. We start jogging again until we hit the path that leads us to the rocky stairs. If my quads were screaming down those uneven treacherous stairs, I can’t even imagine how Dad's legs were feeling. We were getting closer. About three more flights of these stairs, past the old warhead storage facilities and we can HEAR people at the finish line cheering for runners.

As we head down the path, partly on old paved road and partly on trail we can see the lights of the ocean-side of San Francisco in the distance all the way down to Lake Merced. Spectacular is back! And then the bonus: a star burst in the sky down toward Lake Merced. Fireworks! Of course, it is May 1, May Day, International Workers Day, the day that honors workers everywhere in the world except in the United States for which May Day is too socialist and maybe even communist. So we have Labor Day in September, so that our workers cannot have solidarity with the rest of the world's working masses. But San Francisco is not on the Left Coast for nothing, so fireworks grace the sky this evening, providing a nice finish to the work we have been doing on the trail.

With the sun now fully set, temperatures have dropped and there are cold gusty winds blowing off the Pacific. Hilary puts her long sleeve top back on but I just get chilled, although with the finish in sight, I'm not feeling too bad.

Hilary: As we made our final turn to the finish line I told my Dad that I was and still am so proud and impressed that he did this race. His finish time was 15:09.

With Hilary beside me, I cross the line in 15:09:44, finishing 235th of 269 finishers. I get my pottery medal, and then my Miwok canvas drum-shaped backpack, filled with other swag: a Miwok technical short sleeve shirt, a black ‘Oil the Machine’ hat, a one ounce sample of Udo’s oil, a Miwok blanket, a Montrail water bottle, a pair of gloves, a Moeben buff and a 22 ounce bottle of Miwok Trail Ale. I plop down in the heated tent at the finish but don’t have any appetite for the post-race food other than a Pepsi. Hilary goes to find the car.

Hilary: We ate at In-N-Out Burger after the race. Oh yeah, and the car wasn't stolen - phew.